Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Epiphany. An epiphany is a moment of sudden and great revelation or realization. In the east the epiphany commemorates Jesus’ baptism, where Jesus was revealed as God’s beloved Son. In the west we celebrate the revelation of Christ to the non-Jews when the young Messiah is revealed as the light of the nations and adored by the Magi who have travelled from the East. In both cases we find our treasure in Christ.
We see in the Magi the first fruits of those who find this treasure whilst professing a different faith. Thus the Epiphany is an affirmation of universal salvation and a time for us to pray for those of other faiths to come to the fullness of Truth. This is also a good time to reflect on what we are seeking in life and, in exchange for this treasure, how generously we respond to Jesus who reveals God’s Truth in Person?
The story of the Magi is a story of a life changing encounter with the Christ child. They were wise because they were sought the happiness and fulfilment only given by God. On reflection, what are we seeking in our lives? Are we are prepared to abandon everything in the fulfilment of this quest? Are we prepared to abandon the sins that we sometimes give in to and indulge in? On the flip-side, are we determined to overcome vice and pursue a life of virtue? Are we prepared to pay the cost of discipleship in seeking the greatest treasure of all?
Another question is what are we prepared (figuratively) to lay at the feet of the Christ child? I think the greatest gifts we can give to Jesus are our will and our time. Perhaps we can make the resolution this year to offer our will to God in an ever more profound way. Saying to Jesus “your will be done not mine” is worth more to him than gold. Another precious gift is giving Jesus our time in prayer.
In summary, the Epiphany of the Lord was a life changing encounter with the Christ of God in exchange for humble gifts. It prompts us to ask ourselves if we are seeking this encounter at all cost: Are we seeking our own Epiphany? Second, this encounter prompts us to offer gifts such as saying an unreserved yes to God’s will and setting aside more time for prayer. Perhaps even God is asking certain sacrifices of us? Let me suggest that in these three gifts we imitate the Magi by offering the gold of a loving will, the frankincense of prayer, and the myrrh of sacrifice.
Co-ordinator Lilian Schmid introduces a session of the Journey into Truth series.
Last year, Our Lady of Good Counsel in Forestville concluded a six-month adult education program using the Journey into Truth program on the Catholic faith. The response – and the results – show just how much a parish can achieve for the new evangelisation when it sets its mind to it.
Journey into Truth is a series of DVDs with 24 half-hour talks on the faith based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church delivered by Fr John Flader, possibly one of the best known priests in Australia for his ongoing work as a columnist, author and speaker on Church issues.
They are enhanced by high-definition film clips, images and quotations.
The accompanying book of the same title contains the full text of the talks plus an introduction to each session, questions for discussion and points to remember.
Even Lilian Schmid, co-ordinator of the program in Forestville, was delighted by its success which she described as “huge”.
Lilian heard of the program when it first appeared and thought it would be a good way for adults in the parish to grow deeper in their faith.
She spoke with her parish priest about running the program as an evening activity and he readily agreed.
Lilian and her husband Bjorn undertook the task of advertising the course and training those who would assist in running it.
In the end dozens of parishioners were able to attend, joined by people from nearby parishes and others from as far away as Croydon and Concord West.
A group of candidates and catechumens preparing to enter the Church at Easter from the parish of Waitara were also able to attend some of the sessions.
After an introductory session at which Fr Flader was present to explain the program, a group of parishioners came together in the parish hall every Tuesday night except during school holidays to watch one of the 24 sessions.
According to Lilian, the extensive planning and organisation that went into the program were crucial to its success.
For several weeks before its commencement, training sessions were held for all those involved in running the program, especially those who would lead the small group discussions.
Each week a flyer of up to eight pages was prepared for each participant, including the questions for discussion and points to remember taken from Fr Flader’s book, quotations from the Second Vatican Council or papal encyclicals and points from the Catechism of the Catholic Church relevant to the topic for the evening.
The format for the evening involved the group leaders arriving early to pray together, asking the assistance of the Holy Spirit, before preparing everything for the night.
Each session began with a prayer led by Fr Stan Skibicki, one of the priests in the parish, after which one of the leaders explained what was going to be studied that night.
Leaders who were designated as presenters for a session, were also responsible for reading the relevant chapter of Journey into Truth beforehand in order to introduce the participants to its content before they watched the DVD.
After the DVD there was a break for supper, followed by discussion of the topic in small groups, each with a leader. At the end the priest was available to answer any questions that arose in the small groups.
The response of those attending was overwhelmingly positive. Catharine Chu explained that she had received a solid formation in the faith from nuns throughout her school years but her husband Leonard was an adult convert.
They attended the first session “out of curiosity” to see what it was about, not intending to continue for the whole program, but were drawn by it and ended up attending for the full 24 weeks.
She commented: “As Journey into Truth progressed, so did our knowledge of the Catholic Catechism, the context of the Catholic Church’s teachings in history, the saints, Church Fathers and the Catholic Bible and how they relate to our daily lives today. The program was structured in such a beautiful way that concepts and even controversial issues were explained and taught in simple ways by Fr Flader.
“These were highlighted by film clips, lovely graphics and quotations from the Catholic Catechism and the Catholic Bible. Through film the ‘medium became the message’ and we understood immediately the truth of what was being taught.
“Indeed, each segment was a refreshing, riveting and unforgettable experience.”
As regards the small group discussion, she said: “We loved the small group interaction and sharing that followed. It was wonderful to get to know fellow Catholics, whom I respected as I could see how deeply committed and knowledgeable they were in their faith. This is a side one does not get to know from just attending Mass and family group outings.”
Speaking for her husband and herself, she concluded: “In our opinion, Journey into Truth is a must for all levels of our Catholic Church and schools today. This resource is relevant and economical and can easily be adapted in levels of difficulty, even for our primary schools.
“For the Church to be revitalised from within, the Catholic Catechism and the Catholic Bible must be taught in fresh and accessible ways. Journey into Truth is the answer.
“The RCIA would benefit tremendously; so would Catholic priests, teachers and educators at university, seminarians and schools, catechists and everyone involved in the teaching and learning of the Catholic catechism, not to mention small groups meeting in Church halls and homes.
“It would be ‘back to basics’ with a bang!”
Gillian Henery, who also thought at first she would not be able to attend the full course because it was too long, ended up doing so and was thrilled with the result: “The sense of community that developed during Journey into Truth was fantastic – as our knowledge of what the Church teaches grew so did the relationships between those present.
“It was really wonderful to be a part of it and I think it would be fantastic if the parents not only in our Catholic schools here in French’s Forest, but parents of Catholic children in state schools were encouraged to attend a Journey into Truth program. Indeed, I see it as invaluable if the Church is to have any chance of seeing an increase in attendance at Mass in the near future and beyond. Having attended Journey into Truth week in and week out, I can attest to the benefits of seeing it through to the end and firmly believe it would be of benefit to all if run by every parish across Australia.”
Steven Lia, who came to the course from Concord West, said: “I enjoyed Journey into Truth so much that I attended all 24 weeks. I thought I knew my Catholic faith but I finished the series with my faith not only deepened, but with a better understanding of it. I would urge all parishes around Sydney to run this excellent program.”
Fred Pace said: “My brother Bob and I found the course compelling and consoling.
“It was a clear, refreshing and succinct presentation of the undiluted truths the Catholic Church teaches to guide us on our pilgrim journey towards heaven.”
Finally, Lilian Schmid herself, giving thanks for the completion of the program, spoke of her hope that the program would be used widely: “I recommend this program to every Catholic parish, house, school and workplace across Australia.
“The beauty of this program is that you can run it for 24 weeks and have breaks during school term or you can break it into small sections over a longer period of time, for example according to the four parts of the Catechism.”
Lilian offered her services to any other parish or group that would like to run the program.
And the program has borne fruits in all sorts of ways.
One couple who attended were so inspired by the experience they established a Catholic Intercessory Prayer Group.
Others decided to launch a seven-week introduction to the Theology of the Body as a follow-up to Journey Into Truth.
The course is presently being used in a growing number of parishes in Sydney and beyond.
It will be reproduced and distributed by St Joseph Communications in the US and also by a firm in the Philippines.
Here is the introductory video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0-4ScMzfRQ
New Pontifical Academy for Life member questions Church teaching on homosexuality, contraception
December 18, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Professor Marie-Jo Thiel, a new member of the revamped Pontifical Academy for Life, recently said that the Church's teaching on sexuality and family should be thoroughly reconsidered. She pointed to Pope Francis’s exhortation Amoris Laetitia as having given Catholics more freedom.
The Church’s teachings on sexuality have been a “complete failure,” she said. Thiel rejects the Church’s teaching that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and can never be approved. She also firmly rejects the Church’s ban on contraception.
As Katholisch.de reported: "Additionally, she rejected magisterial statements, according to which homosexual acts are [in her own words] 'pathological and always sinful.'" Katholisch.de also reported that Thiel criticized "opponents of Francis" who claimed that homosexuality was pathological and who cited Benedict XVI for evidence.
Professor Thiel made her comments at an event at the Catholic Academy in Freiburg, Germany, according to Katholisch.de, the German bishops’ news website. She was speaking in her capacity as the President of the European Society of Catholic Theology. Thiel is a French medical doctor and theologian and currently teaches theology at the University of Strasbourg, France.
According to the report, Thiel claimed that one should comprehensively reconsider the Church’s teaching on sexuality and the family. Pope Francis, she added, has given new impulses with his document Amoris Laetitia and thus offered more freedom. These opportunities should now be used. Additionally, there is much scope for regional initiatives, she explained, without always immediately looking for a solution that is applicable for the Universal Church. It is about a “wholesome decentralization,” as Pope Francis called it.
Thus, Thiel rejects a “universalistic intransigence” and proposes an attitude that fosters much more the sense of self-determination and the individual conscience, according to Katholisch.de. The theologian added that it is time for the Church to end her “reign over body and souls.”
A Christian morality, Professor Thiel continued, has to be guided by the principle of mercy: “The forgiveness which we received in love and in the faith liberates us and thus leads us to a path of return.”
Speaking about the ongoing sex abuse crisis in the Church, Thiel claimed that it shows “the failure of the heretofore sexual morality” of the Church. The crimes of “sexual abuse of power and conscience” (in the words of the German report) have been committed by those who were meant to live out the Church's morality in an exemplary manner. Thus, she added, the clerical sexual offenders destroy “the [Church’s] entire teaching edifice of the sexual and family ethics and thereby undermine both the absolutist and authoritarian norms, as well as the centralized and obscure structures of power and their inherent possibilities of obfuscation.”
The theologian also decidedly turned against the Church’s ban on contraception. “Is there any inner connection between a sexual union and procreation in nature?” she asked. “No!”
Thiel also spoke about what she considers the “culpable naivëté” of the Church when bishops argue that the use of condoms has contributed to moral decay and the spread of HIV/AIDS.
In 2017, Pope Francis named Thiel a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV), a term that will last five years. Another newly appointed member of the PAV is Father Maurizio Chiodi who, at the end of 2017, said that there are some circumstances that “require” contraception.
At the end of 2016, Pope Francis dismissed all members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, among them the Catholic philosopher and famous critic of Amoris LaetitiaProfessor Josef Seifert. Seifert subsequently founded, together with other former faithful members of the PAV, a new academy in defense of traditional Catholic moral teaching, called the John Paul II Academy for Human Life and the Family (JAHLF). Seifert also publicly criticized the views of Father Chiodi, saying, “Chiodi’s position constitutes an unequivocal defense of the consequentialist and proportionalist ethics that attacked Humanae Vitae from the first day of its publication on, and not only took issue with its teaching that contraception is intrinsically wrong, but [also] claimed that there are no intrinsically evil acts at all.”
The first reading is usually the key to the Gospel. We hear that Samuel is made over to the Lord –consecrated– for the whole of his life. Also Jesus was made over to God as a baby as the ultimate sign of his families love of God. So, no wonder the 12-year old Jesus makes the decision for himself to remain in the Temple as a sign of his coming of age.
In this Gospel we see in Jesus’ life an extraordinary balance in his handling the affairs of his heavenly Father, and those of his earthly family. This is at the heart of the mystery of the Holy Family. We learn that growing in the love of God, amidst the demands of family life, is possible. Jesus had grown enough in maturity to make the decision to be about his Father’s affairs for himself. So, growing in the love of God whilst considering the obligations of family life is not only possible but it is the path that Jesus sets before us.
On the one hand we are to be committed and consecrated to God whilst also keeping our family commitments. What is needed to negotiate this tension is an openness to God’s will. And that is precisely what Mary teaches us even though this is not so simple. Mary models for us what it is to be open to God’s will because even when she does not understand God’s plan fully, she is accepting of it and openly ponders it. On the other hand neither does Jesus assert his will. The Lord submitted himself to the authority of his parents.
In all this what do we learn about being a Holy Family? God’s will trumps the will of each individual, however family structure remains. Holiness is to be worked out in the family. Priority is to be given to God’s will and the life of the family at the same time, as they are one and the same. That is why what Mary teaches us today is most important: Even when we do not understand God’s plan fully, out of our love of God we are to be accepting of it and are to openly ponder the mystery of God’s will in our lives.
Have you figured out what God wills?
God wills unity within a family (and within our communities) which is brought about by our love of God. Our love of God is what brings about the unity willed by God within our families and within our communities.
Papa Panizza's Special Christmas Day
It was Christmas Eve and lights had begun to appear in the shops and houses of the little wheatbelt town, for the sun had started to set in the West.
Papa Panizza didn’t often read, but tonight he pulled down the big old family Bible and he read again the Christmas story. He read how Mary and Joseph, tired by their journey to Bethlehem, found no room for them at the inn, so that Mary's little baby was born in the cowshed.
"Oh, dear, oh, dear!" exclaimed Papa Panizza, "if only they had come here! I would have given them my bed and because it’s summer, the little baby Jesus would have been warm." But as he read on about the wise men who came to bring the little Lord Jesus splendid gifts, Papa Panizza’s face fell. "I have no gift that I could give him," he thought sadly.
Then his face brightened. Putting down the Bible reached for a small, dusty box and opened it. Inside was a perfect pair of tiny Ugg-boots. Papa Panizza smiled with satisfaction. Yes, they were the best boots he’d ever made. "I should give him those," he decided and sat down again.
He was feeling tired now, and the further he read the sleeper he became. And as he slept he dreamed. He dreamed that someone was in his room and he knew at once who the person was. It was Jesus.
"You have been wishing that you could see me, Papa Panizza." he said kindly, "then look for me tomorrow. It will be Christmas Day and I will visit you. But look carefully, for I shall not tell you who I am." … When at last Papa Panizza awoke to the sound of screeching galah’s he said, "Bless my soul! It's Christmas Day!”
He stood up, stretched himself and was filled with happiness as he remembered his dream. This would be a very special Christmas for Jesus was coming to visit him. How would he look? Would he be a little baby? Would he be a grown man with a beard, a carpenter, or the great King that he is, God's Son? He must watch carefully the whole day through so that he recognised him however he came.
Papa Panizza put on a special pot of coffee for his Christmas breakfast, and peered expectantly out of the window. Where was Jesus? The street was deserted. Everyone was still in bed. Everyone except the postman who was delivering last minute messages of Christmas cheer!
Papa Panizza shouted across the street cheerily. "Come in and have some coffee, it is delicious!” The postman looked up, scarcely able to believe his ears. He was so worn out that a lovely cup of coffee would bring him back to life, so he thought!
Papa Panizza watched him with satisfaction, but every now and then his eyes strayed to the window. It would never do to miss his special visitor. "Expecting someone?" the postie asked at last. So Papa Panizza told him about his dream. "Well, I hope he comes," the postman said. I'd say you deserve to have your dream come true." And he smiled.
When he had gone, Papa Panizza put on kangaroo tail soup for his dinner, then went to the door again, scanning the street. Someone was coming.
The girl walked so slowly and quietly. She looked very tired and she was carrying a baby, wrapped in a thin shawl. There was such sadness in her face that Papa Panizza’s heart went out to her.
"Won't you come in," he called. The young mother let him shepherd her indoors and to the comfort of the armchair. She gave a big sigh of relief. "I'll warm some milk for the baby," Papa Panizza said. After it was warm he took the milk and carefully fed the baby from a spoon.
"He needs shoes," he said. But the girl replied, "I can't afford shoes, I have no money.
Sudden thought flashed through Papa Panizza’s mind. He remembered the little boots he had looked at last night. But he had been keeping those for Jesus. He looked again at the baby’s cold little feet and made up his mind.
"Try these on her," he said, handing the baby and the Ugg-boots to the mother. They were a perfect fit. "You have been so kind to us," the girl said, when she got up with her baby to go. "May all your Christmas wishes come true!"
But Papa Panizza was beginning to wonder if his very special Christmas wish would come true. Perhaps he had missed his visitor? He looked anxiously up and down the street but only saw some poor people! “Look at those poor hungry people” said Papa Panizza, who hurried to fetch them hot kangaroo tail soup, but still waiting for the Important Stranger.
All too soon it was evening. Papa Panizza walked slowly back into his room and sat down wearily in his armchair.
So it had been just a dream after all. Jesus had not come. ….Then all at once he knew that he was no longer alone in the room. ….This was not dream for he was wide awake. At first he seemed to see before his eyes the long stream of people who had come to him that day. He saw again the old postman, the young mother and her baby and the poor people he had fed. As they passed, each whispered, "Didn't you see me, Papa Panizza?"
"Crikey, who are you?" he cried. Then another voice answered him. It was the voice from his dream, the voice of Jesus. "I was hungry and you fed me," he said. "I was naked and you clothed me. I was worn out and you gave me rest and a cup of coffee to revitalise me. I came to you today in every one of those you helped and welcomed."
Then all was quiet and still. Only the sound of the big clock ticking. A great peace and happiness seemed to fill the room, overflowing Papa Panizzas’ heart until he wanted to burst out singing and dancing with joy.
"So he did come after all!" was all that he said.
Adapted from the story of Papa Panov by Leo Tolstoy